Tokyo Rose (New Diorama)

Three ladies stand, frozen, with microphones poised on a raised bit of stage as the audience takes their seats in the auditorium of the New Diorama. Two others sit, one each side of the stage area, still and quiet.

It’s 1949, and Iva Toguri (Maya Britto) is on trial for treason, but is that her crime or is her birth country the USA looking for someone to blame “who looks Japanese” after a bruising and demoralising war?

Yuki Sutton, Maya Britto, Hannah Benson in Tokyo Rose
Yuki Sutton, Maya Britto, Hannah Benson in Tokyo Rose

Based on a true story, Tokyo Rose is a brave and powerful new musical from Burnt Lemon Theatre written by Maryhee Yoon and Cara Baldwin, and directed by Hannah Benson. It is female-led and fuses rap with more traditional solos, duets, trios and ensemble songs (composed by William Patrick Harrison).

Iva Toguri finds herself an enemy alien in Japan when she is stranded looking after her aunt just as Pearl Harbor is bombed. Her choices: give up her US citizenship, which she cannot do, and broadcast on a propaganda network, which she does, lead to exploitation first by a British major loyal to the allies (Cara Baldwin, also playing the prosecutor) and then by an unscrupulous American journalist (Benson, also playing the judge) sniffing out a scoop whether true or not.

Cast of Tokyo Rose
Cast of Tokyo Rose

A huge hit at this year’s Edinburgh fringe, this show boasts impressive vocals and harmonies from its cast of five, and a plot which gives Iva and those around her (mother – Yuki Sutton, aunt – Lucy Park) real heart. By the courtroom scenes we are firmly on her side seeing an injustice done: her only crime her naive belief in patrotism.

Tokyo Rose does not shy away from the impact of war on anyone involved – the native Japanese, the American citizens with Jaoanese heritage, the American military, the displaced Americans in Japan. Any thought of victory is a hollow one when families die in camps or are vaporized by an atomic bomb.

Iva becomes “little orphan Ann” but her broadcasts are pitched as satire, not sedition: her words aimed against the country in which she is alien, not against the flag.

I found Tokyo Rose a vibrant piece of theatre which takes a little-known piece of history and gives a voice to its protagonist. In real-life, Toguri (as we are told in an ending round-up) was eventually cleared of her alleged crime, the Rose having been an allied invention appropriated by an opportunist hack and fuelled by xenophobia. She remained a loyal American and died in 2006 at the age of 90.

Tokyo Rose runs at the New Diorama until 12 October. It’s practically sold out, but you could try the returns queue. Production photo credit – The Other Richard.

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Edinburgh Fest picks from afar

I’m not at the Edinburgh Fringe this year, but a few shows have caught my eye, and at least two will be reviewed on here when they hit London later in 2019.

All About Alice

First up, though, is a fascinating-sounding show I will unfortunately miss from a visiting New York company.

Are You Alice: A New Wonderland Tale from the Permafrost Theatre Collective in collaboration with Chameleon Fools Theatre Troupe and C Venues is a multidisciplinary retelling of the classic Lewis Carroll novels – the twist is that every member of the seven person all-female/non-cis cast plays Alice at one point or another. Adding to and repurposing Carroll’s original text, the show utilises music, dance, puppetry and more, presenting a modern Alice for the 21st century audience.

This Alice asks questions of identity, womanhood, and self-acceptance in a world which constantly redraws the lines and rewrites the rules. Iconic images from Carroll’s universe such as the Jabberwock, the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party, and the Queen of Hearts come to life in this show which is suitable for all the family to see.

"I will not belong to someone else's dream."  The cast of Are You Alice.
“I will not belong to someone else’s dream.” The cast of Are You Alice.

Are You Alice runs at C Venues – Viva Cellar at 2.30pm every day from 14-26 August. It is directed by Permafrost founder Christina Rose Ashby, and the company comprises Marth Brown, Amelia Cain, Jo Cutrona. Shelley Franklin, Kayla Prestel, Samantha E Turlington, and Charlotte Vaughn Raines. The music is composed, arranged and performed by Thomas Burns Scully.

Shows moving into London in 2019

Moving on to shows I will be seeing in London – the first is Tokyo Rose (from Burnt Lemon Theatre / Untapped by Underbelly and New Diorama). Running for just an hour, we’re back in 1949 where five female wartime DJs perform a “rap-packed musical broadcast”. Iva d’Aquino stands accused of treason in one of the most controversial trials in American history. Faced with accusations of peddling Axis propaganda, Iva becomes known as the notorious Tokyo Rose – but was she the villain she was made out to be? 

Promotional image for Tokyo Rose.
Promotional image for Tokyo Rose.

Tokyo Rose is in Edinburgh at Underbelly – Cowgate at 6.55pm from 7-11 August, and 13-25 August. It runs at the New Diorama Theatre in London from 8-12 October.

Richard Gadd in Baby Reindeer.
Richard Gadd in Baby Reindeer.

The second show I will be catching when it comes down to London is Richard Gadd’s Baby Reindeer. Gadd has previously performed Monkey See, Monkey Do, a dark and powerful comedy piece, but this is his first foray into theatre, again as a solo performer.

This promises to be a chilling story about obsession, delusion and the terrifying ramifications of a fleeting mistake, directed by Olivier Award winner Jon Brittain and produced by 2018’s double Fringe First-winning Francesca Moody Productions.

Baby Reindeer runs in Edinburgh at the Roundabout @ Summerhall from 7-25 August, and runs for 1 hour 5 minutes. It comes into London at the Bush Theatre from 9 October – 9 November.